By George Ferguson
It's postseason volleyball tournament time in Montana. Eight teams will head to Chester for the District 6C tournament, which gets underway today and will run through Saturday.
The district has seen two teams dominate the regular season, with several others having up and down seasons along the way.
The Sunburst Refiners enter district tournament play as the number one seed and look to repeat as 6C champions. The Refiners have lost only one district match all season. That loss came in five games to the Blue Sky Eagles last Saturday in Rudyard.
The Refiners, 13-1 in district play, are led by all-state hitter Carly Kleinert. She has racked up amazing statistics over the course of the 2002 season. Kleinert is averaging an astonishing 20 kills per match and has had as many as 39 kills in a single match this season. She is definitely a big reason why the Refiners are poised to repeat as district champions. The Refiners open the tournament against eighth-seeded Rocky Boy today at 1:30 p.m.
The Morning Stars, 2-12 in the district, have had a tough season, but despite their eighth seed have pulled some upset victories during the course of the season. They present a stern test for any team that has to face them in Chester this weekend. The Morning Stars are led on the court by senior Tia Gopher and junior all-around player Allie Sunchild.
Fresh off their upset of Sunburst, the Blue Sky Eagles come into Chester as the second seed. The Eagles finished the district season with a record of 12-2. The win over the Refiners, and her teams' play over the course of the season, has Blue Sky head coach Jen Dahlke feeling pretty good coming into today's tournament.
"I feel pretty confident in this team right now," Dahlke said. "We have played well for most of the season and these girls have shown a lot of desire and passion on the court. But, despite our confidence, we are also not underestimating any of the teams in this tournament either."
The Eagles open tournament play with a match today 4:30 p.m. against the J-I Rams.
The Rams, 3-11 in district play, are the seventh seed in the tourney, but Dahlke is certainly not overlooking them.
"J-I is always tough in tournaments," Dahlke said. "They have solid hitters and they play very well together, and they have played us very well during the regular season."
The third-seeded Chester Coyotes also have high hopes coming into this weekend's tournament. Head coach Denise Wanken believes that having the tournament at home should give her team a definite edge this weekend.
"We feel pretty good about this tournament," Wanken said. "Anytime you are at home I think it is an advantage because you get better rest and you have the support of your home crowd."
Wanken is also mindful of the fact the tournament will be very competitive. Each team will have to be very sharp in order to advance to divisional play.
"I think this tournament is wide open," Wanken said. "We'll have to be on top of our game to get out of the district, but I think our girls are prepared and ready to compete."
The Coyotes, 9-5 in the district, will face the sixth-seeded Box Elder Bears tonight at 6:00 p.m. in the final first round match of the evening.
Box Elder is another team that comes into Chester having had it's ups and downs in 2002. The Bears, 4-10 in district play, have lost several close matches and also scored big victories over Rocky Boy and Big Sandy. The Bears also finished third at the J-I midseason volleyball showcase in late September. Box Elder benefitted all season from the play of seniors Tami Infante, Chassidy Parisian, and Brandy Lawrence.
The Big Sandy Pioneers roll into Chester as the fourth-seeded team and will face the fifth-seeded KG KouGars today at 3:00 p.m. The Pioneers have gone through a season of injuries but according to head coach Leena Leeds have come together lately.
"I am feeling pretty confident right now," Leeds said. "We have gotten through the injuries and I think we're playing really well right now. The girls have just recently started to reach their full potential, and I am confident that we are going to be successful this weekend."
The Pioneers finished the regular season with a 7-7 record, while the KouGars finished 6-8, right on their heels. KG has had several close victories, but the KouGars also suffered upsets throughout the 2002 campaign. KG has gotten consistent play all season from senior Emily Stewart and junior Cady Arifin.
While most agree that Sunburst is the favorite coming in, Dahlke feels like with how even the season has been, it could be anybody's tournament to win.
"All of the teams in this district have played well this season and I think anybody can win this tournament," Dahlke said.
The action begins today at 1:30 p.m., with semi-final and loser out matches on Friday and will conclude with the championship match on Saturday night. The top four teams will then advance to the Northern C Divisional tournament in Belt on November 7-9.